You’ve just gotta laugh

When I was 10, my dad made his television debut. Drumroll please… He was interviewed on the local news about what it was like to be stranded while driving through a blizzard. While my dad was at a dead stop on the Southfield Freeway, a reporter approached his 1981 black Ford Escort to talk about being stuck on the highway.

“You just gotta laugh at it,” my dad responded (at least that’s how they edited his entire interview). His 15-minutes-of-fame lasted for just a few seconds. Still, truer words could not be spoken. My dad couldn’t get to work. The freeway was a parking lot and he had no choice but to wait it out in his car on a snow-covered expressway that was temporarily turned into a parking lot. He was unavoidably stuck.

But my dad was right. You just gotta laugh at it. What else could he do? Getting upset wouldn’t prove anything and wishing his situation away would have been a waste as well.

That was a mantra that we frequently used growing up. But beyond laughing in the face of frustration or other unpleasant situations, humor plays an important role in our family.

For most parents, laughter is an incredible way to connect with a child of any age. It just sometimes gets harder as our kids get older. Seeing a baby smile for the first time is beyond magical. Toddlers are easier to amuse as are most elementary-school-age kids. Beyond those earlier years, eye rolls are so much easier to evoke than actual laughter.

With two teens and a pre-teen in our house, sharing a laugh helps keep us connected. It’s so much fun to bond over an inside joke or make a family member laugh uncontrollably.

As an added benefit, there are actual health benefits to laughing. According to various researchers, a good chuckle can possibly lower your blood pressure, reduce stress hormone levels, improve your cardiac health, and increase your immunity. There is even a pair of researchers who touted an abdominal workout as one of the benefits of laughter. Imagine that: being able to skip a workout if you laugh enough!

OK, so I wouldn’t cancel my gym membership, but those are some good reasons to find more ways to laugh it up.

Parents, particularly dads, tend to rely on humor to connect with their children. There’s even a term for this phenomenon. They are called “dad jokes” – a.k.a. the kind of humor that often leads to loud groans and lots of eye rolling. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “dad jokes” likely help build stronger relationships between dads and their kids.

I spoke to a handful of local parents, including two comedians, about how and why they incorporate humor into their family lives, with each touting various benefits humor brings to their families.

One dad, a rabbi and father of five, uses humor to navigate some of the many challenges of parenting. Because discipline can be stressful for both parents and children, he finds that breaking the tension in an appropriate way is beneficial for him and his kids. Not that he doesn’t discipline. He just goes about it in a different way. So, for example, if one his kids doesn’t want to take a bath, they get stuck on the child’s refusal to get in the tub. If the dad can open his child’s mind with a little humor, it gets that child over the speed bump and willing to corporate.

How does he do it? A little bit of bathroom humor, like making a gas sound, always seems to work but he gets a lot of mileage out of tickling them too.

Family banter works well in another family, although they are careful not to cross the line and embarrass each other. And nobody gets offended because they know it’s all in good fun.

One local comedian plays improvisation games with his sons who are 12 years apart. Another way they keep things fun is by ignoring some of the rules when playing board games. This comedian’s advice: Be more spontaneous than what the rules allow and just have fun.

Other ways these families incorporate humor into their lives is by watching comedies together and capitalizing on shared experiences that are unique to their families. No matter how you chose to bring laughter in your family, remember – you just gotta laugh at it.

– Jen Lovy, Beaumont Parenting Program Volunteer

ADHD: You can survive and your kid can thrive

My posts lately have been themed around ADHD and the struggles we’ve had with it. I’m here to tell you, it’s not all bad. I promise.

We’ve seen amazing progress with medication, therapy and a 504 plan. We’re seeing more school work come home with higher and higher grades, and fewer reports of behavior problems. I’m truly about to burst with pride in the progress my son has made.

Have there been hiccups? Absolutely. But they aren’t as intense, and they are less frequent. It’s like we found the little boy we knew was in there somewhere.

I just wish we did this sooner.

When he was in preschool, I was the parent pulled aside just about every day. The teachers said not to worry, he’s just maturing. Somehow, I knew it wasn’t just a maturity thing, but they’re the experts and I listened. I don’t even know if anyone will diagnose a 4-year-old with ADHD, but that gut feeling was there.

See what I did there? Mom guilt. I’m still working on that, too. I have to tell you though, this is much easier to deal with knowing that it’s not a “bad kid” thing, or a “bad parenting” thing. Me realizing what my son’s brain is and isn’t capable of was a huge help for me. Simple things, such as me giving one direction at a time, have made an amazing impact on his frustration level and mine.

Another life saver has been setting timers. His brain, at this age and with ADHD, works in absolutes. Me saying, “We’re leaving in a few minutes,” means nothing. Me setting a timer and saying, “When the timer goes off, we’re leaving,” is an absolute. No arguing with that—and it works. Plus, I’m not the bad guy, the timer is. Win-win.

Once we started figuring this out, things got better.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: You don’t have to struggle. Much. Pediatricians, your own physician, a school counselor, teachers, principals and other parents are all there to help your child succeed. Let them help you. The support system I have with all these people in my life is the foundation for my strength as a mother. I’m not sure where I’d be without their humor, strength, confidence and non-judgmental actions. I love them all for the compassion they show my family and the shoulder they offer me.

So, there they are. The positives of ADHD. You can do this. If you are struggling and need a sounding board, reach out. We’re all in this together.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

Your kids do what for a living?!

guitar player and drummer

One of my boys loved basketball, played baseball and some football, and got good grades in everything even chemistry. When he was 15, he saved up and bought his first bass guitar. His brother was equally athletic in baseball, loved snowboarding and skateboarding, and excelled in English and writing (not so much in math and science). I can’t even remember when he was not drumming. He got a drum kit when he was 13, but before that he took every opportunity to play his uncle’s drums and to tap on any available surface with whatever “stick” was handy.

Gigs, road trips and diligent practice sessions during high school, continued as my boys began college. After two years, I reluctantly let one of them take a year off to pursue music and later it only took a “we need a drummer” phone call to bring his brother home from school in Chicago.

Fast-forward to today.

It was not a phase. It was not a youthful adventure. It was not a Plan B. It is their life.

Is it hard? Yes. Is it lucrative? No.

As a parent, I struggled with some of the decisions I made about letting them leave school; I spent quite a few years worried about their choices. When asked about my kids, I would cringe when I heard responses like, “Oh, how fun! So when will they get a real job?” or “What else do they do?”

I feel for parents of young adults who have chosen a path that doesn’t include a four-year college degree. Sometimes there is tone of apology, regret or even embarrassment when talking about a child that doesn’t go to college right away, chooses a trade, gets “just a job” or joins a band.

How do we determine how to support the choices of our adult children?

This might help:

  • Ask your child: Are you happy? Are you uncertain? Are you afraid? How can I help?
  • Look at qualities that exist regardless of career choice: integrity, character, work ethic, friendships.
  • And sometimes we need to remember that children’s work doesn’t always define them. Other interests and passions are their true identity and “just a job” supports this passion.

My sons have traveled and made friendships all over the world. They are street smart, kind and hardworking. And the passion continues.

Even now as grown men, I wish I could wrap my arms around them and protect them from the dangers of the road and the disappointments of the music business.

But as far as the choice they made? I’m fine with it.

– Betsy Clancy, MA, LPC, is a group coordinator with the Beaumont Parenting Program.

#20yearsofweddedbliss

couple holding hands at sunset

You know I am totally kidding.

The 20 years part is right on. The bliss… well, that part is just a fantasy; a social media hashtag that captions an image that leaves the rest of us feeling like there is something missing from our marriages.

This Valentine’s Day is special for us because my husband and I are celebrating our 20th anniversary. And as any couple knows, we have had our share of hard moments and happy ones — times when it would feel easier to be apart and days when we couldn’t live without each other. And with four kids in the mix ranging from 16 to 6, the truth is that there just isn’t a lot of time these days for each other.

But we can’t use that as an excuse. Because, let’s be real here, who wants to walk this life with a partner we feel constantly out of step with? So while we may not be the most romantic couple, we do hold hands (in the car when we head out to do errands) and we always kiss each other goodbye. And although we don’t post it on social media, we leave cards for each other when one of us is struggling or needing a reminder that they’re loved. Instead of getaway weekends, we take turns scheduling date nights and love watching a good Netflix series together at home. We grab a coffee together in between sports pick-ups and sometimes we just supermarket shop so we can have 30 minutes alone. Nothing groundbreaking here I know, but these small and simple (key for us!) moments become the glue that keeps us connected in this busy life of ours.

And just as much as we try to make these moments of togetherness count, we also encourage each other to step out. A weekend away with a best friend, a beer out with a brother or anything in fact, that helps remind us that we aren’t just a wife, husband, mom or dad. The missing each other part has become just important as the being together part.

Over the years we’ve learned a kind of dance that seems to work for us. And when we misstep, we realign. And we keep communicating. ALL. THE. TIME. And we try not to hold grudges because who has time for that? And yes, our kids hear us argue and sometimes see us leave the house for an hour or two because we just need a break. But I’m OK with that because they are learning that a realistic marriage requires attention, negotiations and a lot of resetting.

This year, we will probably go out for dinner like we usually do for our anniversary. And if I were to post a picture of us on our anniversary, I’m pretty sure my hashtag would read something like #20yearstogether. Understated but significant nonetheless.

– Andree Palmgren, LPC, has a private practice in Westport, CT and is a mom to four kids ages 16, 14, 11 and 6.

 

 

Parenting ADHD: The case of the guilt-ridden mom

mom holding upset boy

I’ve never thought of myself as the jealous type. I don’t think I’ve ever been driven by envy or jealousy. In all my 42 years, I’d never use either of those two words to describe myself, until recently.

You know that old joke, I was a great parent, until I had kids? That’s me.

Yesterday was hard. My son, who has ADHD, didn’t want to wake up for school and things escalated. Soon there was screaming (him), crying (both of us), and broken dishes all over the kitchen floor.

I never experienced anything like that before. Explosive tempers are new to me. This was a cold, hard slap in the face.

After we got everything together and made it to school, I sat in the parking lot for a while. Mostly, I was too upset to drive, but also, I replayed the morning’s events in my head. Would I have done anything differently? Replay. Replay. Replay.

No, I did it right. We’ve been going to therapy as a family and I stuck with the parenting recommendations. I kept my cool and didn’t raise my voice. I said, “I’m listening,” over and over. I gave reminders and chances; I set timers and established boundaries and expectations calmly. I deserved a medal for this skirmish.

Even though I did the best I could, these outbursts usher in guilt and envy for me because as I’m sitting there, watching the other parents bring their kids to school, I wish I was them. I wish it wasn’t so much of a relief for me to drop my child at school, that I didn’t relish the break so much. I wish picking him up from school didn’t hit me with trepidation. Can we play when we get home, or will there be meltdown after meltdown? Will we laugh at dinner, or cry?

I feel guilty because my son needs more attention than my daughter, but I want so badly to spend more time with her. Laughing, crafting and having fun. Instead, I find myself working so hard to switch my emotions to match the needs of each child, that flipping from funny mom to masking the frustration and anger is going to cause smoke to come out of my head.

I feel guilty because I get mad at him. I’m not the parent I want to be, and I blame his behavior. I love my kids with every ounce of my being, but this ADHD thing can suck it.

Parenting a kid with ADHD is hard and it affects the whole family. So many people think ADHD is a failure on mom and dad’s part to control their kid, provide discipline or even have a parental spine.

It’s not.

It’s learning how to parent a square-peg kid in a round-hole world. It’s knowing your kid’s brain is going a million miles an hour, and you just can’t keep up. It’s convincing yourself every day that you’re doing the best you can and tomorrow you’ll do better.

It’s not all bad, though. As fierce as my son is, he loves and protects just as ferociously. His creativity is a true joy to watch and his dimples still melt my heart. These are the things that keep me on track. These are the things that help me to soar.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

Eight ideas for a new year family resolution

fireworks with "Happy New Year" text

Cropped image. Free images, Flickr. CC license.

Happy new year! The ball already dropped over Times Square, but it isn’t too late to make a new year resolution. How about making a resolution as a family? Make the most of the new year and time with your children by spending time together involved in activities designed to bring you closer as a family.

As a parent of grown children, I realize that time is elusive. Time gets away from us and before we know it, our children are grown. As an educator, I see the impact on children who have strong family ties and bonds. It’s not too late. Get the kids involved in the process by gathering your family together, deciding what is important to all of you, and making a resolution – one that everyone looks forward to doing. Decide how often you plan to work on the resolution. Is it daily, weekly or monthly? Mark it on the calendar so it becomes a priority and not forgotten in your busy, daily lives.

Here are some ideas to strengthen the family bonds and bring you all closer than you have ever been.

  • Eat dinner together. Research shows that eating meals together keeps the family connected. It is a time when children can develop language skills and table manners are learned and practiced. It is a good time to reflect about the day and to make plans for tomorrow. You can share hopes and dreams at this special time.
  • Be adventure seekers. There’s nothing that brings a family closer than an adventure experience as a family. Weekends, evenings, vacations and holidays are perfect times to seek adventure. Allow everyone to have a voice in what they would like to do. Select one suggestion and enjoy the day. It doesn’t need to be expensive or far from home; maybe you’ll spend the day at a museum, cider mill, hiking or bike riding on a new trail, or camping out in the family room or backyard.
  • Read together. Research shows that parent involvement in reading is the highest predictor of academic success in children. Deep bonds are formed when we read with our children. Parents frequently stop reading to their children once their child can read independently, but my advice is not to stop reading to your child. Instead, read together, make predictions and draw conclusions together. You can talk about your favorite parts and why characters behaved how they did. Unplug the TV and free yourselves from distractions while escaping to new places and meeting new people in books.
  • Start a family game night. Playing games as a family is an excellent way to stay connected as a family. Game night is one night where you won’t be searching for the kids because they’ll be chomping at the bit in anticipation to begin the evening. Each week, allow a different member of the family to select game for everyone to play. Children love both the traditional games that have been played for years, as well as the newer games that continue to show up in the stores. Games help develop thinking skills, language skills, sportsmanship and following directions. You can check out Playtivities for ideas, too.
  • Movie night. Grab your blanket and popcorn, pick a movie that everyone will enjoy, and sit close on the sofa and watch that movie together. Movie time is intended to be spent together and free of distractions, so turn off the cell phones and computers. When parts are funny, laugh out loud. Cry at the sad parts and save time at the end of the movie to talk about it.
  • Volunteer. What better way to learn that you can make a difference in another’s life than volunteering with your family? From a young age, children learn gratitude for what they have and empathy for others. Family traditions can be formed by making volunteering a priority. Check out this list of developmentally appropriate ways to get your family involved with helping others. PBS Kids also has tips for volunteering with kids.
  • Exercise together. Encouraging family fitness should become part of a family’s routine as it has both immediate and long-term benefits to a healthy lifestyle. When parents model a healthy lifestyle, our children are more likely to see the relevance and make it part of what they do in the future. Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics has increased the amount of time that children need to exercise. So, get off the couch and go for a walk together as a family, dance to the latest songs, go for a bike ride or simply do some of your favorite exercises.
  • Cook meals together. Looking for a way to get your children to expand the foods they eat while having fun and bonding as a family? Children take pride in creating a special dish and are more likely to try new foods when they are involved in the process. Try cooking together. Plan on one day a week to plan a meal, shop, prep, cook and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
    • Purchase a cookbook with pictures or borrow one from the library that has pictures of what the meal will look like when cooked.
    • Make a list of the needed ingredients and enjoy the family experience in the grocery store.
    • Everyone in the family can find something to do the prep for the meal. Remember to give the little ones jobs that are safe; no knives or heat sources nearby.
    • Cooking the meal can also be enjoyed by everyone in the family.
    • Finally, clean up should go quickly because, as the old saying goes, “Many hands make light work.”

Happy reading and happy new year!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Create a holiday book together

boys with gingerbread houses

It’s hard to believe that once again the holidays are sneaking up on us and will be knocking at our doors before we know it. Last year I posted a book list for children of different ages from newborn through 18 months. If you’re looking for children’s books to give as gifts, please take a look at that article.

Like many of you, my husband and I took pictures of the special times together with our children during the holidays. We took pictures of selecting our tree and decorating it, baking cookies, visiting Santa at the mall, and the list goes on and on, culminating with the arduous task of taking down our tree. We did little with those pictures until the following Christmas, when we would look back at them and reflect on the special times we had together and the people in our lives that made our holiday so special.

Then one year I decided to capture all of our special times together and make our own book. Each time we did something for the holidays with our children, I captured those special moments with a photograph. Throughout the holiday season, we collected several dozen pictures. When the holidays were over, we looked through our pictures and chose our favorites, then put text with the pictures. I used my kids’ words and ideas. We even added a page with our puppy’s paw print.

That book became our coffee table book that year and the children looked at every day. It also seemed to be the book that houseguests gravitated to; they commented on it and asked questions. It was truly our family’s favorite holiday book. It was the last decoration put into the holiday bins, so it was the first item pulled out each year.

In January after the holidays are over, we often find time to do things that we weren’t able to do in December. Preparing for Christmas and Hanukkah is time consuming, so January is the perfect time to reflect, look at photos and make a special book together.

So this holiday season, capture those memories and enjoy them for years to come. There are several companies and apps that can help you accomplish this, including Shutterfly and Snapfish. Your book can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like it to be.

Head over to Tom’s Guide for several ideas and updates on how to do this. The site also ranks the various photo book services. One service in particular, Mixbook, offers a step-by-step direction guide to first time book makers. However, look at the reviews on the website to find the place that works for you. Tom’s Guide also ranks the companies that are available for you to create a book that your children will love.

Happy reading!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.